It's a crazy idea that you need some sort of special ability to use/put on armour, it's just clothing really. I know DnD is not simulationist but most components have a fantasy justification.

When was it first included in the system and why? Is this just a need to give player race/class a gift so all players lose ability to wear armour of all types?

Just a clarification- its not the question why magic users can't use armour as that is fully answered in another question but why other classes can't use a certain grade of armour and there is racial armour proficiency.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your assertion "it's just clothing really" lacks credibility, and disinclines me to up vote an otherwise nice question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lexible
    Jun 2, 2015 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ From experience: it takes time to get used to since it is heavier, restricts movement; and if it has face protection it also reduces vision and messes with depth perception. It isn't 'just clothing'. It makes sense and mimics reality to have a penalty in any kind of athletic or combat rolls if untrained. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2, 2015 at 17:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's good argument for it to give some penalties- not for it to be impossible. Still seeking the justification by the Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson or other designers. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 3, 2015 at 1:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ It wasn't impossible, and the justification from Gygax is in the text in my answer below. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Jun 8, 2015 at 21:34

2 Answers 2


It was in the very first incarnation of D&D. Witness ye, the words of OD&D (Men & Magic) from 1974:

Magic-Users: Top level magic-users are perhaps the most powerful characters in the game, but it is a long, hard road to the top, and to begin with they are weak, so survival is often the question, unless fighters protect the low-level magical types until they have worked up. The whole plethora of enchanted items lies at the magic-users beck and call, save the arms and armor of the fighters (see, however, Elves); Magic-Users may arm themselves with daggers only.

And therein lies your answer. A core part of D&D balance from the beginning has been that wizards wield incredible power but are fragile physically and can't use armor or most weapons. Gygax made that a part of the game, as it was how he envisioned his fantasy world grafted to a wargame to work.

The in-fiction justification back in the day for this restriction was simply that 'that class doesn't get around to learning that." Proficiencies as a formal idea that you could take instead of just having a monolithic bundle of abilities based on your class didn't come till later. If you dual or multi-classed, you could cast wizard spells in armor just fine by the way, there was originally no real inhibitor except that "wizards don't learn that in wizard school."

However, even "proficiency" is a compelling argument - armor's not "just clothing." Untrained people put on wetsuits, climbing harnesses, etc. in laughable, inefficient, binding, and frankly dangerous ways. Football players spend a lot of time micromanaging their pads and helmets and learning to move in them. The idea that "I'll just slap this armor on it'll be fine" falls down when its specific adjustment is what keeps you from getting bones broken from deflected blows, or from it getting caught on the battlefield/foes/weapons and dragging you to your doom.

One can also argue the influence of genre tropes (Gandalf didn't wear armor!) on this long-standing trope, but that's pretty much an opinion-fest, and is already on this SE as a closed question: Where does the stereotype that wizards can't wear armor come from?

Armor Across The Editions. According To The PHBs

0e, 1e, and 2e: Magic-users couldn't use armor because they weren't trained in its use, period. They are busy learning spells from books instead, and armor is a bit binding and impedes somatic components. Races that could multiclass or dual classing in general let you cast magic-user spells in armor.

3e, 3.5e, and Pathfinder: Magic-users can gain proficiency in armor but even then there's a spell failure chance for spells with somatic components because of armor's restrictive nature.

4e, 5e: Armor has no specific effect on spellcasting, though if you're not proficient you take various penalties to everything including spellcasting.

As you can see, the approach has really been quite consistent. Even before there were proficiencies, and after, the general explanation is "if you aren't proficient in armor, then you will have trouble with your spells," though that penalty has lessened over the years. It's a mix of game balance and realism - the same reason a wizard doesn't know armor and weapons is the reason a warrior doesn't know spells - in life, you have to make choices about what you learn, and "all of it" is not a feasible answer, at least not as a 16-year-old starting adventurer! In earlier editions it was harder to learn things in general as it was very class-based; now that there are proficiencies and stuff a wizard can learn armor like anyone else, by making that tradeoff to not learn something else useful.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Surely arcane magic users restrictions on armor have to separate from other classes otherwise the magic user would just obtain the proficiency. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 3, 2015 at 1:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ No comprende. In newer versions you can just obtain the proficiency... \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Jun 3, 2015 at 1:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Pretty good answer, but the claim that 0e, 1e, 2e gives a non-training explanation can't be backed up by quotes from the source material. DMs had to provide their own explanation, as there simply was no given interpretation to this fact in the rulebooks. \$\endgroup\$ May 28, 2016 at 23:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ For example: It was equally justified that J. Eric Holmes (editor of the first D&D Basic set) could write in his D&D-based novel The Maze of Peril, that an elven fighter/magic-user would have to discard all weapons and arms before casting a spell: "Can't have iron touching the body anywhere... no iron, even nails in the boot heels. It drains the flow of force from the other world." (Ch. 3) \$\endgroup\$ May 28, 2016 at 23:08

Armour proficiency isn't a "special ability to put on armour". It's being accustomed enough to armour that you can move fairly well in it without difficulty.

Plate armour is not "just clothing", it's heavy, inflexible, solid "clothing".

Lighter armour types aren't quite so inflexible, but they're still heavy & bulky.

(there's also the "interferes with magic" aspect, which is purely an invention of the game and the fiction it was influenced by)

Armour proficiency has been around since the start of D&D. In the beginning, your class defined which armour types you could wear. Some later editions gave the ability for characters to gain extra armour proficiencies later (eg, 3e has armour proficiencies as feats).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, just wearing armour isn't necessarily very useful; A well-aimed thrust can piece boiled leather, for example. Fortunately, it is possible to fight in ways that use worn armour to deflect blows without harming the fleshy flesh inside, but that's a skill you need to learn. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jun 2, 2015 at 4:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Shouldn't it just be penalty like weight or encumbrance or against a skill? In chaotic situations, aiming isn't that likely. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2, 2015 at 4:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2617804 Stopping to aim is unlikely, but I understand many martial types deliberately perform repetitive drills designed to build muscle memories, so that they can strike accurately and without hesitation when the need arises. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jun 2, 2015 at 4:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2617804 It's not really much different from weapon proficiencies. Of course anyone can pickup a sword, bow or a rocket launcher - but actually using it is a different matter entirely. Much less using it effectively and safely. And it's not just about piercing the armour - each armour has weak spots you need to learn to protect, it affects your ballance etc. Sure, let your wizard wear plate armour. But in the actual battle, the first time he tries to move quickly, he falls and is immediately daggered in the neck - end of game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Luaan
    Jun 2, 2015 at 12:49

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